Sleeping Venus by Giorgione (public domain)

I’ve been noticing lately that most nights I tend to sleep for 4 hours and then lie awake for a while, maybe up to two hours, before falling asleep again. I don’t think I’ve always done this, and have been dismissing it as a consequence of getting older.

But a couple of articles from last week have got me thinking that it’s a natural, normal thing to do.

As someone who has wrestled with sleep issues for most of my life, I tend to read any sleep or insomnia-related article I stumble upon, even this one on an expensive, but perhaps effective, ‘sleep school’.

Interestingly, historical and psychological research suggests that humans used to sleep twice during the night, with a roughly 2-hour middle-of-the-night break in between. They’d hit the proverbial hay, snooze for 4 hours, get up, talk, have sex or pray (take your pick) before once again entering the Land of Nod for a further 4 hours.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

–BBC News

The idea is that before artificial light, much of humanity regularly experienced up to 14 hours of darkness every night. What to do if you can’t afford candles? Sleep 14 hours a night? No, they slept twice, hence the break.

Funny how our society complete forgot about this long-practiced habit, but psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted experiments in the 1990s that support that this is our natural sleep pattern.

I’m going to start visiting my neighbors at 4 in the morning and see how they like it. If they complain I’ll just show them the research and say I’m getting in touch with my roots. I suggest you all do the same.

Read more on this topic on BBC News and in this comment piece in the Guardian.